An 8-year-old boy born with cerebral palsy has secured €5 million (nearly $6 million) in compensation, settling his case against Ireland’s Health Service Executive after a round of mediation talks in which the child’s attorneys argued that government doctors had incorrectly read tests of the fetal heartbeat. The boy’s parents, filing suit on behalf of their son, are relieved to have avoided a “long drawn out court battle,” the Irish Examiner writes.

Irish Boy Secures $6M In Cerebral Palsy Malpractice Case

In their complaint, the parents accused physicians at Sligo University Hospital, a public facility in northwest Ireland, of misreading a series of CTG tests in the run-up to their child’s cesarean birth on May 3, 2009. Only two days after undergoing a routine CTG test, designed to monitor her child’s fetal heart rate, the mother says she woke on May 3 but felt no movements.

Newborn Baby

Concerned, she returned to Sligo, where, after another test, she says that doctors told her they found a strong fetal heart beat. In reality, the mother claims, the CTG test results were “pathological” – something was wrong with her baby.

Government Health Agency Admits Violation Of Care Standards

Doctors finally picked up on the problem at 2:10 in the afternoon, court documents report, noting that no fetal movements had yet been observed. But it took another hour-and-a-half for obstetricians to perform a cesarean section. The woman’s child was delivered at 3:27.

In their lawsuit, the parents claimed that obstetricians at the government-run hospital had failed to deliver their son at the earliest-possible opportunity, resulting in severe brain damage and his eventual cerebral palsy diagnosis. During mediation talks, the Health Service Executive admitted to having breached the duty of care in failing to deliver the family’s son by 2:38, which medical experts had pegged as the earliest-possible time for delivery.

How Irish Malpractice Litigation Is Different

Ireland, like the United Kingdom, has a public health service, the Health Service Executive, which uses taxpayer funds to provide health and social services to the nation’s nearly 5 million citizens. And, as in England and Northern Ireland, the Irish Health Service Executive frequently finds itself at the center of medical malpractice litigation.

Media Pressure & Common “Ownership”

Birth injury suits are still more common in America, since few doctors (beyond those working at Veterans Affairs hospitals) are granted protection from liability by their connection to the US Government. But in Ireland, as in England, cases of gross medical negligence often receive far-wider media coverage. As a public agency, Ireland’s primary health care provider, the nationalized Health Service Executive scheme, is subjected to intense scrutiny, because, in some sense, it is “owned” by the nation’s citizens.

Doctors in America, on the other hand, despite receiving on average 50% of their compensation through publicly-provided funds (Medicare and Medicaid), are usually viewed as private practitioners or hospital employees, who owe a duty of care solely to their own patients.

Government Protection

Stories of medical malpractice in the US don’t go as far as they would in Ireland or the United Kingdom, in part because claims of negligence against government doctors are more likely to be considered public, rather than private, information.

At the same time, Irish lawmakers believe that the Health Service Executive, as an agency established for the public good, must be protected from liability. For that reason, it’s generally harder to sue an employee of the Health Service Executive than it is to file suit against an American doctor, nurse or hospital.

Ireland has its own private medical system, too, but most “private” physicians in Ireland are at least partially funded by the Health Service Executive, so the vast majority of medical malpractice cases filed in the country eventually come to involve the public agency. In most cases, Ireland’s State Claims Agency also gets involved; that’s the government organization that handles and processes claims for compensation against public agencies in Ireland.

Pre-Trial Screening Boards

Many US states have begun to increase the barriers that medical malpractice plaintiffs must overcome before filing lawsuits in court. One option, the so-called pre-litigation screening panel, forces patients to submit case documents to a board of medical professionals and lawyers before they can ask for a trial. The panel reviews medical evidence, hears expert testimony and ultimately provides its judgment on the facts at issue. In many states, the board’s opinion can then be admitted as evidence in any subsequent trials, either supporting or contradicting defense arguments.

Mandatory Settlement Offers

Ireland mandates such pre-trial screening in every case of medical malpractice. But the nation’s laws go even further. As Irish firm Matheson explains, the Courts and Civil Liability Act of 2004 compels all plaintiffs in Irish medical malpractice claims to provide defendants with a formal settlement offer within 14 days of filing their Notice of Intent to Sue, another requirement under Irish malpractice law that is being picked up by some US states.

Looser Liability Rules

Irish malpractice litigation is a little tougher for patients on the ground, too. Irish courts generally grant physicians a greater amount of leeway in complying with standards of care, allowing them to introduce heterodox medical theories into evidence so long as medical experts exist to contradict the standard practice. In short, it’s harder for an injured Irish patient to hold a negligent doctor accountable than it would be in America, in large part because the two nations have different views on the concept of negligence.